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State freezes admission to psychiatric hospitals for patients who are not in the criminal justice system

"So, essentially, in order to get mental inpatient mental health services, you have to commit a crime.”

There are 94 beds at the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Fort Logan in Denver. 

Starting Christmas Eve, the Colorado Department of Human Services announced patients discharged from them are being replaced with someone in the criminal justice system. 

People who have not been charged with a crime will not be given a bed for the foreseeable future. 

“We at Disability Law Colorado are very shocked and dismayed by the state’s proposal," said the group's director of legal services, Alison Butler. She said she thinks the state is solving one problem by creating another. 

According to Butler, Colorado is focused on a "short-minded solution" by giving more beds for people in the criminal justice system and taking away beds from people who also need mental health treatment but are not in the state's system.

"So, essentially, in order to get mental inpatient mental health services you have to commit a crime," Butler said.

In an emailed statement the Colorado Department of Human Services said, "it did not have an option but to freeze civil admissions" because of its "requirement to meet the constitutional rights of defendants in criminal cases." 

A settlement from a lawsuit filed by Disability Law Colorado requires the state to decrease the wait time for mental health services for people in the criminal justice system to 28 days. The state's human services department called the move to freeze certain patient's admission a "reluctant" one. 

“What we need is to build up community resources so that people who don’t need to be institutionalized and in jail or a mental health hospital and can be treated safely in the community," insisted Butler. 

The state said they agree, but feel their hands are tied because the final decision is up to individual judges. Since 2010, human services officials have seen a 1,251 percent increase in court orders for inpatient mental health services. 

In addition to freezing admission for civil patients, the state also plans to expand bed capacity and convert a youth facility into a place to service patients in the criminal justice system. There is no end day for the freeze. 

In the meantime, patients can still receive referrals for a community-run inpatient care facility through Colorado Crisis Services.

Human services officials said, "The department continues to pay for these services for those who are not covered by insurance." 

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